Harvest Salad with Caramelized Onions

Years ago, I was invited to join a book club. We started with the lovely narrative cookbook Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. Our little group, who hardly knew each other in the beginning, formed an intense bond over all those nights cooking and eating, sharing life at the table.

Fast forward, and one of those dear friends, who I met by joining that book club, had a birthday. My house filled up with new and old friends, kids running everywhere, wine glasses clinking, and the table jam-packed with platters of food. We laughed until our sides hurt and stayed up way too late. I had to run my dishwasher three times to wash all the dishes we used, but it was absolutely worth it, for the time around the table together.

This salad is the epitome of how I love to cook and eat. Fresh, simple and easy but a little surprising too. The caramelized onions give the salad a rich hearty flavor and balances out the tang of the goat cheese and tart crisp apple. Sweet blackberries and crunchy almonds add just the right flavor and texture.

The salad and the vinaigrette are loosely inspired by Bread and Wine and seemed like the perfect thing to make for my friend. We grilled steaks to go alongside our salad and ate peach crisp with scoops of melting caramel ice cream for dessert.

I make a version of this salad year around, swapping out seasonal ingredients based on what’s fresh and available. In the spring I use blueberries and strawberries and in the winter, I pile the greens high with dried cranberries and roasted squash. The only things that don’t change are the caramelized onions and the balsamic dressing. Don’t hesitate to make this salad yours, experimenting with the flavors you prefer. Pears, dried cranberries, toasted pecans and gorgonzola cheese would be a lovely combination for fall. Go wild, you can’t go wrong.

Harvest Salad with Caramelized Onions and Balsamic Dressing

  • 1 8 oz. container organic baby spinach
  • 1 honey crisp apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 6 oz. container fresh blackberries
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup crumbled goat cheese
  • ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup toasted slivered almonds

Maple Balsamic Dressing

  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Start by caramelizing the onion. In a medium saucepan, drizzle two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over thinly sliced onions. Give the onions a quick stir and sprinkle with kosher salt. Turn the heat to medium-low and cover with a lid. Stir every couple minutes until the onions are richly brown and condensed down by about half, usually about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, layer the honey crisp apple, blackberries, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and slivered almonds over baby spinach. Top everything with the caramelized onions. Drizzle with maple balsamic dressing and mix to combine all ingredients. Serve immediately.

To make the salad dressing, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, Dijon mustard and a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper in a jar with a lid. Shake well until ingredients are well-combined. Drizzle dressing over salad. Store extras in the refrigerator for up to a week.

The Ultimate BLT

Living out in the country, we have to get a little creative when we’re not in the mood to cook dinner. Nobody delivers takeout where we live and if we’re all home together, usually no one is itching to hop back in the car to drive somewhere for food.

Which is no big deal since I love to cook, but even I burn out on cleaning up a messy kitchen after so many meals in a row. We were thrilled when Cowiche Creek Brewery opened in our ‘neighborhood’ and their tasting room and wonderful outdoor space has become a regular spot for our family. Our kids can throw the frisbee in the grass and run around without being (too much) of a bother while the adults grab a picnic table and enjoy the stunning views as the sun sets over the rolling orchard hills.

We often pack an easy picnic to take with us. Sandwiches, chips, fruit and if we’re feeling really fancy maybe some hummus and carrots.

We get out of the house for a bit, connect with friends and eat an easy meal in the grass while the kids run around. Everyone wins.

I don’t know what it is but when the tomatoes finally start ripening in my garden at the end of the summer, all I want is a good BLT sandwich. This recipe is for the ultimate bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich.

A quick bread is mixed together in five minutes flat with sharp cheddar, bacon and chives. The beer adds a slight tang to the bread and keeps it nice and soft. When the bread is ready, all you have to do is throw your sandwich together and you’re ready to head out for a picnic.

Avocado, vine-ripened tomatoes, crisp bacon and an easy lemon dill mayonnaise elevates this sandwich to a whole new level. A few chips and an ice-cold beer are all you need to complete your meal.

And of course, you don’t need the excuse of a picnic to make these yummy sandwiches. Make a batch of beer bread and suddenly you have a week’s worth of sandwiches for lunch. You won’t regret taking the extra step to throw the recipe together.

Sharp Cheddar, Bacon and Chive Beer Bread

• Nonstick cooking spray

• 3 cups all-purpose flour

• 3 tablespoons sugar

• 4 ½ teaspoons baking powder

• ½ teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

• 1 ½ cups light or amber beer (Corona works really well)

• ¾ cup shar cheddar, shredded or cubed

• ¾ cup crumbled bacon (use pre-cooked or it’s the equivalent of about 5 pieces of cooked bacon)

• ¼ cup chives, minced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir in beer until a dough forms. Gently mix in cheddar, bacon and chives.

Transfer the dough to the loaf pan and place on the center rack of the oven. Bake for 45-55 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the dough comes out clean. The top should be golden brown.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. Cut into ½ inch slices.

Ultimate Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich

• 12 pieces center-cut bacon

• 3 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced

• Lettuce

• 2 ripe avocados, flesh removed and sliced thinly

• Lemon dill mayonnaise (recipe below)

• Loaf of cheddar, bacon and chive bread, sliced and toasted

• Kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and line bacon evenly on the tray. Cook the bacon in the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes until the bacon is cooked through and crispy. Remove from oven and place bacon on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up excess grease.

To assemble sandwiches, toast slices of bread. Spread lemon dill mayonnaise on one slice of bread. On the other slice of bread layer slices of avocado and tomato. Salt and pepper the tomatoes. Layer on lettuce and two slices of bacon. Top with the lemon dill mayonnaise bread and lightly press the sandwich together. Repeat as necessary. One loaf of bread should make between 6 and 8 sandwiches depending on how thinly the bread is sliced.

Lemon Dill Mayonnaise

• ½ cup mayonnaise

• 1 teaspoon fresh dill, minced

• 1 teaspoon fresh parsley, minced

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• Juice of 1 lemon

• Pinch of salt

In a small bowl gently combine mayonnaise, dill, parsley, garlic and a pinch of salt. Squeeze the lemon over the mayonnaise and stir until well-combined. Store extras in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for 3-5 days.

Tabbouleh Salad

School might be starting and Labor Day weekend is just days away but I’m not ready to give up on summer just yet. School or no school, I want to enjoy every drop of goodness summer has to offer. We drove up Chinook Pass and hiked the Naches Peak Loop trail. It’s been on my to-do list all summer long and even though it’s been smoky and hot, I convinced my family we should go anyway.

We ended up having the best day. We were able to see patches of blue sky through the haze and Mt. Rainier loomed large through the clouds. Huckleberry bushes lined the trail and we couldn’t resist snacking on a few as we walked along. The trail is a little over three miles and absolutely worth the drive up the pass. The wildflowers alone were worth the trip.

As we drove back down into the Valley, we cooled off in the Naches river, finding the perfect swimming hole to splash around in. We ended our day at Braun Yr Aur Brewery in Naches for pizza and cold beer. The kids threw the frisbee in the grass while we waited for our pies and we happily devoured them when they arrived, absolutely starving from a day well-spent.

And while I wouldn’t even try and compare this couscous salad to the amazingness of the Naches Loop Trail, I will say this: it is every good thing about summer in one bright, zesty, healthful bite. Couscous is mixed together with cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onion, olives and artichokes. Dressed very simply with lemon juice, a big handful of chopped herbs and salt and pepper it is the perfect side dish to bring to a barbecue over the Labor Day weekend or whip it up this weekend and enjoy as lunch all week long.

Tabbouleh Salad

• 1 ½ cups couscous, cooked

• ½ english cucumber, diced into ½ inch pieces

• ½ cup shredded carrots

• ½ red bell pepper, diced

• ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved

• 1 shallot, diced

• ½ cup Kalamata olives, halved

• ½ cup marinated artichoke hearts, diced

• 2 lemons, juice and zest

• 2 tablespoons chives, minced

• 2 tablespoons basil, minced

• 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced

• Salt and Pepper

Cook couscous according to package instructions. Allow to cool completely. Once cooled, use a fork to fluff the couscous. In the meantime, chop vegetables. Combine the vegetables and couscous in a large bowl. Zest one lemon and set aside. Juice both lemons over the mixture and add the lemon zest. Stir gently. Chop herbs and add to salad. Liberally salt and pepper. Cover salad with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

*One little tip: Use a teaspoon or two of the oil from the marinated artichokes and add it to the salad when you stir in the lemon juice. You don’t HAVE to add it, but it adds flavor to the salad.

Zucchini Bread with Dark Chocolate and Walnuts

My garden got off to a slow start this year. The dogs ate all the broccoli and cauliflower before I could harvest any of it and we accidentally overwatered our pumpkin vines to an untimely death.

The potatoes and tomatoes are a go and finally the zucchini plant, which you would think would be impossible to kill, is finally ramping up to full production. I picked the first two vegetables off the plant a few days ago and couldn’t resist making my favorite zucchini bread. This is a recipe my mother made for me when I was growing up. She clipped the recipe from the newspaper back in the eighties and still makes it today. Now I make it for my kids and the tradition continues.

This recipe makes a giant loaf and it can be deceiving because the crust gets very dark and you might worry it’s burning or drying out, but it doesn’t. The crust is a little bit crispy and the inside is moist and delicious. I like to add dark chocolate chips and toasted walnuts for crunch and texture but don’t feel like you have to follow suit. Often, I split the recipe between two smaller loaf pans and make one the way I like it and the other with nothing extra for my kids who love the chocolate but don’t like the nuts. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Zucchini Bread with Dark Chocolate and Walnuts

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bread pan with parchment paper or coat it in cooking spray. Beat eggs and oil for 2-3 minutes until creamy in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add sugar and mix for another minute. Add zucchini and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix together all dry ingredients. Slowly combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients until well-combined. Stir in chopped walnuts and dark chocolate. Pour batter into bread pan and bake for one hour and 15 minutes or until a toothpick stuck into the center of the bread comes out clean.

*If the bread is getting too dark on top but not finished baking, fold a piece of tin foil in half and create a little ‘tent’ to cover the bread. It will continue cooking but the top won’t get overly brown.

My Favorite Guacamole

Last week the kids and I followed a very dusty dirt road for what felt like a very long time to get to Umtanum Creek Falls. The description online I found for the hike said it was an easy 3.5-mile hike roundtrip with views of a waterfall. What we didn’t know is that we could have driven to Ellensburg by way of the highway and simply taken the dirt road an easy five(ish) miles to our destination but we went the long way from Selah winding up the river canyon on the far west side, driving past ranches and fields and into a forest I had never seen before.

Unfortunately, the trail was dry, steep, full of snakes and where it wasn’t dry and steep it was stinky with stagnant water and very muddy. We ran from a swarm of bees we kicked up and Scarlet, my five-year-old daughter, slipped on a rock and fell straight into a giant muddy bog. We did see the waterfall though and the kids ran along the trail with friends, scrambling over logs and marveling at butterflies, grasshoppers and tiny little frogs they found along the stream.

We stopped for ice cream in Ellensburg on our way home and decided that while the hike itself was a bit of a bust, we were still happy we went.  It’s always good to go on an adventure, even when it involves bees, snakes and mud.

We also concluded that chips and guacamole, ice cold sprites and a margarita for mom was in order as soon as we got home. We were hot, tired and dirty; but nothing some guacamole couldn’t fix.

And lucky for us, I’ve got a killer guacamole recipe. I’m a little bit of a purist in that personally, I don’t prefer onions or tomatoes in my guacamole. I do however like big bright flavor and I get that from a big handful of cilantro, the heat of a jalapeno, fresh chives and lots of lime and lemon juice. A generous sprinkle of coarse se salt at the end gives the dip a little crunch and texture and balances out the flavors. If you like a little texture to your guacamole with onions or tomatoes, then use this recipe as a starting point and add what you like to make it perfect for you. But don’t skip the lemon juice, that’s the secret ingredient.

Guacamole

• 4 ripe avocados

• 1/3 cup cilantro, minced

• 3 tablespoons chives, minced

• 1-2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced

• Juice of 1 lemon

• Juice of 2 limes, or to taste

• ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt

• Pinch of ground black pepper

In a bowl, scoop out the flesh of the avocados. Add the cilantro, chives and jalapenos. Use a fork to mash down the avocados and combine the ingredients. Add the lemon juice and lime juice and a pinch of salt. Stir again until the guacamole is smooth and well-combined. Garnish with coarse sea salt and black pepper. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.

Grilled Corn with Avocado Cilantro Sauce

When summer heats up, the last thing anyone wants to do is turn on the oven. So let’s not. There’s plenty of delicious food to make without ever going near the oven.

This avocado cilantro sauce is my new go-to dressing for everything. And when I say everything, I really mean everything. I use it to make pasta salad with fresh corn, peppers, onions and feta cheese. We use it as a marinade and then later drizzle it on grilled chicken and flank steak, I even used it as a dip for quesadillas for my kids.

The sauce is an easy salad dressing and a little extra olive oil thins it into a nice vinaigrette. Just load up a bowl with some rotisserie chicken, greens, veggies, a hard-boiled egg, sliced avocado and a hearty drizzle of this dressing and you have an awesome cobb salad. Bright and fresh with a touch of heat and acidity; this avocado cilantro sauce is exactly what you need to make it through the dog days of summer.

I typically make a big batch of sauce at the beginning of the week and store it in my fridge in an air-tight container for at least a couple of days. I use it as needed and try and always make sure to have the ingredients on hand to make more when I run out.

Avocado Cilantro Sauce

• 1 small walla walla sweet onion

• 2 cups tightly packed cilantro leaves (about two bunches)

• 2 cloves garlic, peeled

• 1 jalapeno, seeded

• ½ cup olive oil

• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

• 1 avocado

• Juice of 2 limes

• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon black pepper

Give the onion, garlic and jalapeno a rough chop. In a food processor, combine the onion, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno and avocado. Pulse the ingredients a few times so they begin to break down. Add the red wine vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper. Turn the food processor back on and while it runs, slowly pour the olive oil in until the ingredients are well-combined, and you get to your desired consistency. I like my sauce on the thinner side, so I use the full half cup of oil but if you like a thicker sauce you can use less.

I’ve tried to grow corn in my garden for years now but somehow every year the bugs win and I am left with a couple ears of sad half-eaten corn. This year, I threw in the towel, corn is four for a dollar at my favorite fruit stand and I’ve never once found a bug. Problem solved.

I needed an easy side dish to go with grilled burgers and this recipe for a riff on street corn ended up being a family favorite. If you don’t feel like grilling your corn on the barbecue, you can always boil the corn cobs in a big pot of salted water for a couple minutes.

Grilled Corn with Avocado Cilantro Sauce

• 6 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned

• 2 tablespoons butter, melted

• Avocado cilantro sauce

• 2 tablespoons Cotija cheese, crumbled

• Cilantro leaves

• Salt and pepper

Lightly brush corn with melted butter. Over medium heat, grill corn on the barbecue until the corn is lightly charred on all sides. Remove from heat immediately.

On a tray lined with parchment paper, drizzle or generously brush corn with avocado cilantro sauce. Sprinkle the corn with cotija cheese, cilantro leaves and a dash of salt and pepper.

The Best Summer Salads

It’s hot this week. And I don’t know about you but when it gets hot like this, the last thing I want to do is turn on my oven or even the barbecue. I want meals to be simple and fresh. And as much as I would like to eat ice cream for every meal, I grudgingly accept that’s probably not the healthiest choice, even on the hottest days.

This week I’ve got three salads to share with you. These are my go-to summer salads. Chances are if you invite me to a barbecue at your house I’ll show up with one of these recipes. All three salads are light and delicious. They use the best of the produce that’s available locally right now and chances are, you probably have almost all the ingredients at your house right now.

The fresh corn salad is a crunchy, slightly sweet salad that just gets better and better the longer it sits. Use this recipe as a guide but make it your own. The watermelon feta salad is one of my favorites. I make a riff on this recipe probably once a week and even my kids have started eating it. I love to swap the fresh red onion for pickled red onions if I happen to have a batch in my refrigerator. And finally, the cucumber salad is one of my husband’s favorites. I keep a batch in the fridge for him and he snacks on it all week. It’s cold and refreshing and easy to throw together in just a couple minutes.

Fresh Corn Salad

• 6 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cob

• 1 red pepper, diced

• ½ walla walla onion, diced

• ¼ cup fresh basil, minced

• ¼ cup olive oil

• 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

• Salt and pepper to taste

Shuck the corn and using a sharp knife, cut the corn from the cob. No need to cook the corn, if you buy it at the farm stand it’s so fresh and sweet, it doesn’t need to be cooked. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients, stirring well. Leave on the counter or cover and put in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to intensify. This salad tastes best when made a few hours ahead of time. Cherry tomatoes are an easy swap for the red pepper and a sprinkle of feta cheese is delicious with this salad.

Watermelon Feta Salad

• 3 cups seedless watermelon, diced into bite size pieces

• 8 cups spring greens or arugula

• ½ cup crumbled feta

• ¼ red onion, sliced thinly

• 2 tablespoons fresh mint

• Juice and zest of two limes

• ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

• ½ cup olive oil

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl layer the watermelon, feta and red onion over the greens. In a separate bowl combine the lime juice, zest, vinegar and olive oil. Dress the salad, sprinkle with fresh mint and salt and pepper. Serve immediately. I’ve made this salad many many times and sometimes I add avocado and crumbled bacon as well. Adding fresh basil along with the mint and swapping the feta for goat cheese is lovely too.

Quick Cucumber Salad

• 2 english cucumbers, peeled and cut into ½ inch slices

• ½ yellow bell pepper, diced

• ½ red onion, diced

• ½ cup rice wine vinegar

• 1-2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

• Dash of red pepper flakes

• Salt and pepper

In a bowl toss the cucumbers, bell pepper and red onion together. Pour the vinegar over the vegetables, sprinkle with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add the toasted sesame oil and gently mix the vegetables with a spoon. The oil has a very strong flavor and can quickly overpower the dish. Consider adding the oil a teaspoon to get the flavor just right for your taste buds.